Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

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Fda (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


HAVE YOU EVER READ THE WHOLE INGREDIENT LIST ON A FOOD PRODUCT? Not a fun thing to do, is it? What are all these ingredients and what do they do for us? Why are they used?


  • Many are used to impart or maintain a desired consistency, for example, alginates, carrageenen, mono-and diglycerides, methyl cellulose, pectin
  • Some improve/maintain nutritive value such as vitamin C, calcium carbonate, folic acid, B vitamins, iron, vitamins A and D, and zinc oxide.
  • Others maintain palatability and wholesomeness. Examples include BHA, BHT, citric acid, propionic acid, sodium nitrite and vitamin E to help
    prevent rancidity.
  • Some produce light textures and control acidity/alkalinity such as citric acid, fumaric acid, lactic acid, phosphoric acid, sodium bicarbonate, tartrates and yeast.
  • Others enhance flavor or provide desired color such as aspartame, caramel, cloves, FD&C red No 40, FD&C blue No. 1, fructose, ginger, limonene, MSG, tumeric.


The Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938 gave the FDA authority to regulate food and food ingredients. The 1958 Food Additives Amendment further mandated that manufacturers provide documentation that the food additive is safe and to obtain prior approval for its use in a food.


In 1958, all food additives used in the U.S. and considered safe at that time were put on a “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) list. These additives either had a long history of being safe to consume or had documented research verifying its safety, These additives included salt, sugar, spices, vitamins among others. Since that time, some substances have been reviewed and removed from the list such as cyclamate and red dye #3 due to their link to cancer. Many of the GRAS chemicals have not yet been rigorously tested primarily due to cost.


Most nutrition sources proclaim the use of food additives is strictly regulated by the FDA. This does not seem to be the case.   Safety requires testing on at least two animal species and scientists determine the highest dose of the additive that produces no observable effects in the animals. Many of the GRAS chemicals have not yet been rigorously tested primarily due to cost. Recently a new paper discussed how lax this regulation is and that some companies are using additive quietly on a “self-determined” GRAS list with any testing or approval from the FDA




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Food Supermarket 4

Food Supermarket 4 (Photo credit: eltpics)

OH MY!!!  If the USA could only have these guidelines instead of the current ones.  They make so much sense, don’t they?  I have my doubts that will happen here due to the food industry lobbies and the emphasis on profit and often misleading advertising about the foods we eat.  If consumers would be more involved in decisions about the food supply, maybe things could change in a couple of years.  Consumers have made differences before and the food industry listens (sometimes).   You can file comments on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines here.

For  the Brazilian guidelines:


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The Meat Market – Shame on Tyson

Meat market

Meat market (Photo credit: State Library of Victoria Collections)

This is an interesting site – check it out if you’re interested in our food supply (in this case meat)  and how it operates.  I am ordering the book, The Meat Market by Christopher Leonard.  The events are live on the dates presented.  They are lengthy but you can choose your time and watch as long or as little as you want to.


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The Scoop on Potassium

A medical student checking blood pressure usin...

A medical student checking blood pressure using a sphygmomanometer and stethoscope. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Everyone talks so much about the sodium content of our diets and for good reason, we consume way  too much of the stuff.  Here are some numbers:

  • 3500 mg = American adult daily consumption.
  • 2300 mg = Adult upper level
  • 1500 mg = Adult recommended daily intake
  • 180 mg = Adult needed daily intake

About 12% of Americans’ consumption of sodium is from foods in which it occurs naturally such as fruits, vegetables, milk, meat, fish, poultry and legumes.  Another 5% gets added during cooking and another 6% is used to season food at the table.

Processed foods contribute a hefty 77% of the sodium in the American diet.  Comparing the amount of sodium in a fresh tomato (11 mg) to the amount found in a cup of canned tomatoes (355 milligrams) dramatically illustrates just how much more sodium is found in processed foods.

Sometimes adding more potassium to the diet will offset the “upside-down) sodium/potassium ratio that is recommended.  In other words, we consume way too much sodium and way too little potassium.  Potassium is needed in the body for:

  • Muscle contraction and nerve impulse conduction including your heart.  Too much can cause irregular heartbeats and too little can cause paralysis.  For this reason, potassium is tightly controlled in the body with the help of the kidneys.
  • Potassium can help lower blood pressure, especially in salt-sensitive people who respond more to sodium’s blood pressure raising capabilities. Potassium causes the kidneys to excrete excess sodium thus keeping sodium levels low.
  • Potassium can help bone health by keeping bone-strengthening minerals calcium and phosphorus from being lost from the bones.  Potassium also helps reduce the risk of kidney stones by helping the body excrete citrate, a compound that combines with calcium to form kidney stones.

How much do we need?  Adults should consume 4700 mg of potassium a day.  Since Americans fall far short of eating fruits and vegetables,  adult females consume only 2200 to 2500 mg of potassium and adult males consume only 3300 to 3400 mg daily, on average.

Several researchers reviewed published studies on the topic and concluded that if Americans were to boost their potassium intake, adult cases of high blood pressure could fall by more than 10%.  The findings were published in The Journal of Clinical Hypertension, July 2008.  High blood pressure is the chief reason for visits  to physicians and for prescriptions written in the U.S.  In societies that consume a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, hypertension affects a mere 1% of the population. In contrast, in societies consuming larger amounts of processed foods, one out of every three adults has hypertension.

There are no known dangers from consuming too much potassium from foods; it will be excreted in the urine.  However, taking supplements or salt substitutes can cause hyperkalemia (too much potassium) in the blood which can cause irregular heartbeats, heart damage and be life-threatening.

How to add potassium to your diet:

  •  Pour a glass of a citrus juice (orange or grapefruit) for breakfast to get a potassium boost. Have a banana as a breakfast fruit or for a snack.
  • Add leafy greens to all of your sandwiches; spinach is an especially good source.
  • Add a spoonful of walnuts to yogurt for potassium, both from the nuts and the dairy.
  • Have bean soup with a sandwich for lunch.
  • Baked regular or sweet potatoes are great sources as a side dish for dinner.
  • Other great sources are squash, tomatoes, carrots, apricots, prunes, melons, peaches, fish such as halibut, tuna cod,  trout and  lean pork.
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Food Addict?

Position of the nucleus accumbens and Ventral ...

Position of the nucleus accumbens and Ventral Tegmental Area (VTA) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The idea that food (at least some types) are addictive has been debated  for quite a while and up to now mostly rejected by both nutrition and addiction researchers.  Based on some recent research however, it is being discussed more seriously that food and drug addictions have much in common in how they affect parts of the brain associated with pleasure and self control.

What’s the evidence?  Studies from Princeton and the U. of Florida found that when rats were allowed to binge on sugar and then the sugar was taken away, they showed opiate-like withdrawal symptoms including teeth chattering, forepaw tremors and the shakes.

There is a paradigm called the conditioned place preference.  Rats are given a choice between two rooms and the rats become familiar with both of them.  For example, inside one room, the rat is given injections of morphine or cocaine and in the other room, he/she is given a placebo of injected saline. Guess which room the rats hung out in most of the time – of course, the drug room – they had learned to prefer the effects of this room compared to the other (boring) room. This phenomenon continued even after the injections were discontinued.

In a study based on this paradigm at Connecticut College last year, rats were trained with Oreos in one room and in the other boring rice cakes.  They spent just as much time in the Oreo room as they had spent in the cocaine or morphine room in previous studies.  After that experiment they examined the nucleus accumbens (a part of the brain’s pleasure center).  They measured the expression of a protein located there (c-Fos) that  tells us when that brain center has been turned on or not in response to a behavior.  They found  a greater number of neurons that were activated in the nucleus accumbens in rats given the Oreos compared to animals conditioned to cocaine or morphine.  This raised the question – do foods high in fats and/or sugar affect the brain in the same way as addictive drugs?

In a study published in Nature Neuroscience (2010), rats that spent 40 days eating bacon, sausage, cheesecakes and frosting became addicted by continuing to eat despite given electric shocks.  Rats who were not addicted did not.

So much for the rats. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at how food intake is associated with dopamine-containing pleasure centers in the brain. Dr. David Ludwig from Boston Children’s Hospital  and colleagues measured blood glucose levels and hunger and used MRI brain scans to look at brain activity during a four-hour period after a meal.  This time span helps to influence eating behavior at the next meal.

Two identical milkshakes in calories, taste and sweetness were  given to 12 overweight or obese men.  One of the milkshakes contained a high-glycemic carbohydrate causing a rapid rise in blood glucose; the other contained a low-glycemic carbohydrate that takes longer to digest, thus a slower-acting blood glucose response.

When the volunteers consumed the high-glycemic shake, they experienced an initial surge in blood glucose levels that was followed by a sharp decline four hours later. The subjects also became extremely hungry.  Brain scans showed activation of the nucleus accumbens  which is also triggered by addictive drugs and even behaviors like gambling.  These results may help to explain why some people overeat (however, all obese people do not exhibit this behavior) and provides a biological reason rather than just blame it on a lack of willpower.

Dr. Ludwig said: “Beyond reward and craving, this part of the brain is also linked with substance abuse and dependence, which raises the question as to whether certain foods might be addictive.  These findings suggest that limiting high-glycemic foods such as white bread and potatoes could help obese people reduce cravings and control the urge to overeat”.

Dr. William Davis, writing in “Wheat Belly (a provocative book) has also proposed the theory that wheat is addictive. But remember, diet books often make bold statements to help them sell.  He makes many claims that often are not supported by proper references, in my opinion.

From his  book:  “ It has been known for a century that opiates, when administered to lab animals and humans increase appetite.  It was discovered about 30 years ago that the gliadin protein of wheat is, in effect, an opiate, as it yields digestive breakdown products that bind to the opiate receptors of the brain.”
For a critical review of this book:


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All About Taste

Human tongue, taste buds for sweet are marked

Human tongue, taste buds for sweet are marked (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This article is very interesting about how food, flavors,  genes, and our brains interact even before we are born.   Enjoy!!!


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Thoughts on “Grain Brain”

A variety of foods made from wheat.

A variety of foods made from wheat. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s a new book out called Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar – Your Brains’ Silent Killers,  written by a neurologist who claims that  some carbohydrate foods  contribute to the  development of Alzheimer’s disease including most whole grains.   These types of books invite criticism from skeptics as to the validity of these claims.

Here are some thoughts:

Not many U.S. educated physicians are thoroughly educated in nutrition science but become “nutrition  experts” and write a book that may or may not be supported by the current peer-reviewed research..

Healthy carbohydrate foods  are included in many diets that have been studied extensively as to their efficacy in chronic disease prevention (not cures) including heart disease and dementia.  These diets include the Mediterranean Diet and the DASH diet (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension).  Both contain ample carbohydrates but do not promote unhealthy carbs such as refined grains or sugary foods.

I tend to prefer  the lower carbohydrate diet approach and am not a fan of wheat or sugar, but I do appreciate the health benefits of legumes and whole grains, fruits and vegetables.  There is no need to avoid them n our diets  unless there are some problems with glucose control,  celiac disease, allergies, or gluten insensitivity.  These conditions can be addressed by physicians or nutritionists trained in medical nutrition therapy. .

Based on the recent rush of food manufacturers to label their products “gluten-free”  (even if there was no gluten to begin with) has made this substance the new pariah of foods.  It’s amazing how the food companies scramble to try to make their products seemingly healthier.   This is similar to a couple of decades ago when all you saw on food labels was  “No Cholesterol” even when there was never any cholesterol in the food initially.  Cholesterol is not found in plant products, but I remember seeing a bag of raw potatoes in the supermarket back then claiming NO CHOLESTEROL!.  How silly.  For a sensible and knowledgeable  approach from another physician whose blog I enjoy reading:


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Some Good News?


Juice (Photo credit: hepp)

At Last – people appear to be getting the messages about healthier food choices.  Still many  of our food choices continue to consist of  sugary carbohydrates – fruit juice,  soft drinks, snacks and even yogurt (many contain a lot of sugar) and some cold cereals.  But it does appear to be a slight improvement.  I would like to know what kinds of vegetables are being consumed.

A lot of the choices are based on cost and convenience and a lot of these foods are often processed, however.    But it’s trend in the right direction.


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What to Eat? Some Evidence.

Healthy Berries are Good Food for Health

Healthy Berries are Good Food for Health (Photo credit:

We’ve all heard about what to eat for health  like fruits, vegetables, etc. etc.  But in this study, the research offers some more explicit evidence by measuring a nutritional biomarker instead of merely asking people to recall food intakes. In my opinion, this kind of research is so important to substantiate the advice of why these foods can be healthy and in this case associated with a longer life.

A previous post addresses the role of polyphenols in the diet.  Check it out, please.


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